Pittsburgh looks to be rounding into form offensively as the Big East season approaches.
The sixth-ranked Panthers will try to extend their non-conference home win streak to 56 games Wednesday night against American University in their final tuneup before conference play.
Pittsburgh (11-1) won 97-64 over Maryland-Eastern Shore 97-64 on Saturday, bouncing back from its Dec. 11 loss to then-No. 11 Tennessee. The Panthers, who open Big East play next Monday against No. 4 Connecticut, shot 55.4 percent Saturday and had 33 assists - one shy of the school record set against Cleveland State on Feb. 14, 1974.
“We’re known for our unselfishness, but 33, even for our standards really sticks out,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “That’s an unbelievable number. Our motion and movement is getting better. I think it’s heading in the right direction, especially where we’re going offensively. We have room to improve, but I like where it’s going.”
Pittsburgh is averaging a Division I-best 20.8 assists per game. Reserve Travon Woodall had nine assists, Ashton Gibbs seven and Brad Wanamaker six Saturday.
Gilbert Brown became the third Panther to average in double figures for the season after scoring a career-high 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting. Brown’s previous career high of 25 points came against South Florida on Jan. 31, and he had not scored more than 15 this season.
“I still ain’t figured it out,” said Brown, named the Big East player of the week. “But I’ve felt good all week shooting the ball. My mindset has been no hesitation - just go out and play basketball and be aggressive. … Sometimes I feel like we’re holding back and don’t play to our talents.”
Pitt’s defense is limiting opponents to 40.9 percent shooting after allowing non-conference foes to shoot 37.0 percent in November and December last season.
“We’ve got guys back, but aren’t matched up appropriately,” Dixon said. “That’s part of experience and time - getting guys playing together and getting used to one another. That’s something that will get better.”
This is the first time Pitt will face American (7-4), the preseason favorite to win the Patriot League in voting by league coaches and sports information directors. The Eagles are playing the sixth game of a stretch of eight in a row away from home.
Vlad Moldoveanu had 21 points for the second straight game in Monday’s 69-64 victory over Mount Saint Mary’s. American shot 52.0 percent in the second half after trailing by four at the break.
“In the first half, they wanted it more,” coach Jeff Jones said. “In the second half, we came out and were more aggressive and we wanted it more. The trick for us is to find a way to play that way for an entire 40 minutes.”